The Blackberry Priv is short on Privacy

by Matt Klassen on November 9, 2015

Perhaps if it wasn’t named “Priv,” a moniker that centres around the two key principles of the device, “privacy” and “privilege,” then maybe people could just accept the new Blackberry smartphone as just another slightly enterprise-oriented project, doomed to mediocrity like most everything else in the mobile world.

But with the name “Priv” Blackberry wanted to drive home the point that this phone was both the gold standard of mobile security and digital luxury, a phone that would provide enterprise users with both feelings of protection and elitism. Unfortunately it seems unable to deliver either, making “Priv” not only short for “privacy,” but short on privacy as well.

While Blackberry clearly had the best intentions for creating a powerful enterprise-oriented device that embodies the spirit of security that Blackberry has always focused on, the problem is that the Priv doesn’t protect your privacy, at least not like other secure phones do, meaning branding it as a privacy phone is dangerously misleading, and that could leave certain users exposed.

As ZDNet writer Zack Whittaker explains in his insightful review, for privacy to exist in any meaningful way in the mobile world, it means that users have control over their personal data and how it is accessed. That, unfortunately, is where the Priv seems unable to deliver.

While Blackberry’s built-in security app called DTEC was able to discern what apps the user accessed what data and how much data those apps in turn accessed, the app operates more like a distant observer rather than an effective gatekeeper, providing information but offering few tools to actually do anything about it.

As Whittaker writes, “In short, it’s a weak privacy app. It doesn’t prevent your data from being slurped up by the various apps you use, nor does it give you an option to do much about it — except uninstall the apps. And let’s face it, nobody is going to uninstall Facebook.”

Simply put, while Blackberry has clearly done several things here to help bolster mobile security, including “security-focused additions to the software, including kernel hardening, adding hardware root-of-trust to prevent rootkit malware and device tampering,” in addition to promises of regular security hotfix patches that can override carrier’s approval, the fact of the matter is that taken as a whole, the Priv has more security holes than a slice of Swiss cheese and thus Blackberry’s promise of privacy just isn’t good enough.

The problem is, “you can’t half-ass privacy and security. One trip in the system and you can bring the whole veil of protection down,” Whittaker explains, and that’s just it, what Blackberry promises here is insufficient, particularly when compared to the niche market of secure phones, like the Blackphone, that offer unprecedented control over what data is shared and to whom.

In the end, the Priv strikes me as a good phone, a slightly better than average Android offering and something Blackberry enthusiasts can get excited about; a “smart, usable, accessible and customizable device” with that physical keyboard that many have missed over recent years. The only problem is that for a phone that has privacy in its name, it offers very little security in comparison to actual secure smartphones, and so marketing this device as one that can protect your data and maintain your privacy has the potential to be very dangerous indeed.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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